This year, Hamed has caught the attention of General Ostad Atta Mohammed, the political commander of Mazar-i-Sharif. In April, a new issue of the satirical Kalak-e-Rhaastgoy began getting a lot of buzz for what Hamed calls "the sharpest language against the government and warlords." Two months later, after the newspaper received threats from Atta's supporters, Hamed and an editor met with Atta, who promised to investigate.
The next day, Atta called Hamed. According to Hamed, Atta said, "I respect you very much, because you are a high-profile journalist and writer. But sometimes I'm afraid that my own soldiers may write against me after reading you." Hamed interpreted this as an "indirect threat."
Cut to October 2003. In an apparently unrelated incident, armed men broke into Hamed's house in Mazar, taking the computer, printer, and fax machine, and assaulting three of his brothers. One brother recognized the men and complained to the local police commander. According to Hamed, the commander said, "I can't do anything because they are Atta's people. So you should defend yourself." His brothers bought two hunting guns, and two nights later when the thugs returned, his brothers fired shots, scaring them away.
"The solution for a writer is not to have a gun," says Hamed. Nor will he go back into exile. He says the problem is that there is no culture of democracy in Afghanistan, and without him, "This problem might always be present. The only way to support freedom of speech is through the courage and resistance of individual journalists and the support of independent organizations."
Let's hope the U.S. journalists who give lip service to CPJ will be as brave as Hamed, the next time they get a bullying phone call from Karl Rove.